SRU students and faculty advocate for state recognition of music therapists


The music therapy staff and student at a piano

From left, Slippery Rock University music therapy faculty Nicole Hahna and Vern Miller work with music therapy major Roslyn Heald at the University’s on-campus clinic in Swope Music Hall. January is Music Therapy Advocacy Month

Jan. 24, 2019

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - January is Music Therapy Advocacy Month, which strikes a chord, literally, with students and faculty in the music therapy program at Slippery Rock University, as well as the 100 clients per week who benefit from services offered at the Sue Shuttleworth Music Therapy Clinic in SRU's Swope Music Hall.

Music therapy, as defined by the American Music Therapy Association, is "the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy degree program." SRU, which offers both a bachelor's and master's degree in music therapy, is among nine AMTA-approved schools in Pennsylvania, the most in any state. Nationwide, only 81 programs are recognized.

Nicole Hahna


Most states, including Pennsylvania, do not require music therapists to be credentialed by the Certification Board for Music Therapists, either as a protected title or through some type of legislation that requires music therapists be licensed. Employers, such as hospitals, mental health clinics, rehabilitation facilities and nursing homes, still hire music therapists in states like Pennsylvania, but practitioners, employers and their clients benefit from state recognition.

"(A state requirement) provides additional consumer protection and increases access to services," said Nicole Hahna, SRU associate professor of music and undergraduate music therapy program coordinator. "Right now, there is marketplace confusion about music therapy. A lot of time people think that they hired a music therapist who just plays music, so this campaign raises awareness that employers should hire someone who is board certified and demonstrates quality, integrity and knowledge of the field."

Hahna is co-chair of the Pennsylvania State Task Force for Music Therapy that intends to influence lawmakers and spread overall awareness.

The students who work closely with a variety of clients can attest to the benefits of music therapy.

"You get to help clients do things they didn't know they could do," said Darian Gold, a sophomore dual major in music therapy and music education from Butler. "I love working with kids because you learn a lot when you're a kid, and I want to have an impact so they can grow and do big things."

SRU students are required to complete 1,200 clinical hours, mostly at the on-campus clinic, in addition to a six-month, full-time internship.

"I'm a hands-on learner so having this experience is beneficial," said Roslyn Heald, a senior music therapy major from Mount Airy, Maryland, who was attracted to SRU for its onsite clinic and engagement with with professors and clients. "Being able to have that human interaction with multiple clients from different populations, ages and diagnoses shows us how things are in the real world."

Music therapy can vary based on each client's needs, such as children with cerebral palsy or children on the autism spectrum who learn motor skills and cognitive skills through non-verbal, musical queues, or elderly clients or those with addictions who use lyrical music and music improvisation as a way to improve memory or express frustration.

"We work to achieve the goals of each client," Hahna said. "Music has the power to affect everybody, but this type of therapy incorporates music to achieve a functional goal, whether that's to motivate and to structure motion, like the tempo for walking up and down stairs with alternating feet, or as a mnemonic device for encoding information, like remembering your left from your right, the alphabet or colors."

While SRU's master's program is relatively new, having launched in fall 2016, the bachelor's program started in 1977 as the first degree offered by SRU's Music Department. The two-year, 36-48 credit master's program is the first music therapy program in the country with emphases on multicultural, social justice, insight-oriented approaches and resource-oriented approaches.

SRU's job placement rate is more than 90 percent for music therapy graduate. Students completing the undergraduate program are eligible to sit for the MT-BC exam. Although less than three quarters of first-time test-takers pass the exam, SRU graduates' pass rate is above the national average.

"We encourage everyone to use music and have it part of their lives," Hahna said. "But music therapy is a specialized credential with a specialized health care professional who had training. Most employers require the national certification in their job descriptions but not all do. The campaign this month is for people to ask for a board-certified music therapist to raise the standard of quality care."

MEDIA CONTACT: Justin Zackal | 724.738.4854 |